Taking the nature of this weapon into account the general assumption is that the target of a bomb of this nature would possible be a large city, congested transport or residential area. However this is common assumption and possibly not the only targets that terrorists might consider.
From the point-of-view of the terrorist it may be more appropriate to choose a target which would be less secure and would maximize the damage that could be caused to the infrastructure of a country. This target could be an important energy or communications system that would affect large parts of the country. The choice of such a target would also have the effect of maximizing damage and striking a blow at the psychological morale of the country as a whole.
There are also other advantages to a choice of target that is not a city or large residential area. The first is that highly populated areas would be more secure and highly monitored and therefore less accessible to the terrorist. Secondly, by reducing the number of civilian deaths, but yet striking a severe blow to the country, the terrorist might gain some moral high ground and this could in turn attract recruits to their cause who might otherwise be dissuaded from joining on human and ethical grounds.
Taking these factors into account a perfect target for a terrorist with a smaller nuclear device would be a power or energy source such as a dam or system of dams. A hydroelectric plant would possibly be the ideal target in this scenario; for example, the Conowingo Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant. It should be noted that this is only an example and merely intended to show the type of target that may be seen to be feasible from the point-of-view of the terrorist.
This target would be ideal for a number or reasons. In the first instance it is in close relationship to the Peach Blossom Nuclear Plant. "In addition to serving Exelon's Conowingo Hydroelectric Project, the pool is also a source of water for Exelon's Muddy Run Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project, Lancaster County, Pa. And Exelon's Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant, York County, Pa." As can be seen from this reference, the dam also serves and is related to many other parts of the complex power creation and distribution network; making it a relevant and important target for the terrorist.
Another important factor is that the dam is also a recreational resort, which would also serve the terrorists ends in terms of civilian casualties. Furthermore, the dam is an important ecological area and the fallout or radiation from the "dirty bomb" would have a devastating effect on the ecological system of the region; which would have a knock - on effect for the future of the regions, not only in terms of the power supply but also on agriculture, tourisms and other factors.
Essentially in a scenario like this the main objective would be to destroy or impair the power supply, with the main aim of creating chaos. It would also be seen as an attack on one of the symbols of prestige and achievement of the nation - which would also serve the terrorist from a propaganda point-of-view.
In the final analysis, the effect of such an attack on the electricity supply would be devastating. The following citation is quoted at length as it clearly outlines the consequences of an attack on a target of this nature.
The electric power industry is one of the most crucial national infrastructure sectors. It encompasses sensitive potential targets and underlies the smooth operation of all other infrastructures. Despite widespread backup and continuity of operations resources and procedures, if the electric power sector were to suffer sustained outages, communication systems could be seriously disrupted, trains could stop running, planes could be grounded, and the economy could grind to a halt. Unlike other energy sources, electricity cannot be stockpiled, so power disruptions would have almost immediate effects.
Furthermore, due to the ease of access to online information about the area and the hydroelectric plant, including technical details, the terrorist could plan and strategize according to information that is obtainable on the Web. For example, there are many public Websites that provide extensive details about the dam and divulge the fact that Conowingo is one of the largest national dams; which would be an enticing bit of news for any terrorist interested in causing havoc on the infrastructure of the country.
Another aspect that would make this or other hydroelectric plants a feasible target is the fact that the water in the area would possibly be poisoned by the radiation from the bomb. The results of such an attack would on the surface be comparatively slight and less outwardly dramatic, in comparison to an attack with a WMD on a major city. However, the effect of an attack on a power supply or hydroelectric plant would have consequences that would have a real and long-term affect on the economy and the psyche of the country.
As stated, the security that surrounds dams and other sources of energy sources is often not as stringent as those that exist in mains centers. In the light of this it would be a relatively easy, or a least less difficult, for a terrorist to find a way to plant and detonate a bomb in this area. The bomb need only be powerful enough to destroy the computer system and the control of the hydroelectric plant and the dissemination of radiation would add to the devastation.
However, it must also be noted that since the events of 9/11 areas like these where important power sources reside have been subject to more strict security. The realization of the vulnerability of these power sources have been seen as a "soft" areas in the security system. The following is from a report on the water infrastructure by U.S. Rep. Don Young, Chairman:
On September 11, 2001, our concept of what constitutes a credible threat to the security of our nation's critical infrastructure changed. Threats that previously had been considered low-risk are now being examined and incorporated into emergency plans and procedures. Ongoing efforts to upgrade infrastructure security have taken on a far greater importance and urgency.
Nevertheless an attack on a structure of this nature would be devastating and the use of a "dirty bomb" would not only destroy the functionality of the plant but also contaminate the water system and radically disturb the balance of the ecosystem for years to come.
4. Conclusion and summation
The above discussion has been an attempt to assess how a terrorist attack might be conducted using weapons of mass destruction. The conventional scenario is that such a weapon would be used against a highly visible and vulernabe target such as a city or crowded residential area. This is certainly a prime target for the terrorist and the weapon of choice in this regard would be the use of a "dirty nuke." The reason for this choice of weapon is largely due to its accessibly and the relative lack of intensive technological knowledge that would be needed in the construction of a conventional nuclear device. As noted in this discussion, the use of a "dirty bomb" would be less effective than a conventional nuclear device but would nevertheless succeed in taking lives, contaminating the area with radiation and causing psychological and physical social disruption. The fear of radiation would also sow panic among the public.
However, there are less obvious targets that the terrorist might consider. While cities are obvious targets is this very fact that makes them more security aware and consequently more difficult for the terrorist to operate in.
Other targets that may be even more accessible and also just as attractive to the terrorist are power structures and hydroelectric plants. If these targets are chosen the terrorist may avoid the intense security in the more populated areas. This choice of target could also hold other advantages for the terrorist. While WMD is usually associated with the loss of human life, a double purpose could be attained by using WMD to destroy sensitive energy sources which are also a source of ecological balance. Not only would this disrupt the power supply but such an attack would also lead to long-term environmental poisoning and agriculture contamination. Furthermore it would be a harsh blow to the morale and psychological integrity of a nation. The implementation of such as nefarious action would also be relatively less complex than attempting to detonate a bomb a city where there might be more there would be more obstacles to the terrorist action.